Camp Anarchy has compiled the best of punk rock culture and history into one weekend, a getaway of sorts. From craft beer, to giant beer pong and dodgeball. Plus a killer lineup featuring The Offspring, X, Rancid, Pennywise, NOFX and Bad Religion – what’s not to love?
A highlight of my year: attending Camp Anarchy just outside of Thornville, Ohio. When I told people where I was going (a lone female photojournalist, no less…), I was met with concerned stares; “are you feeling okay?” and expressions of mild alarm; “are you sure that’s a good idea?” I assured them it was. While punk culture is very okay with being those kids your daddy warned you about, there’s really so much more to it. I stepped onto the festival grounds Day One armed with wild curiosity, my Doc Martens and just enough of my own tattoos to play the part. Little did I realize, I didn’t need to pretend.
In it’s very first year, Camp Anarchy has proven a vibrant collection of people poignantly committed to celebrating the culture and history of punk rock. It’s not just a ragtag group of misfits; it’s an outrageous celebration of a multi-generational underground culture that is just as colorful as it is misunderstood. It really is quite a wonderful space. It’s the mysterious misfit “new kid” in the festival scene, but it is also just the bratty little brother of its predecessor, Camp Punk in Drublic. Either way, it made an impression as newer, shinier, more polished version of this multifaceted, multi-country homage to the punk rock scene. With camping, a great craft beer festival, and a lineup featuring legends of punk rock left and right. Where else can you play dodgeball and giant beer pong when you’re not in the front row for Pennywise? It’s everything you wanted when you were fifteen years old, clad in Doc Martens, denim on denim and a couple of spiked pleather wrist cuffs, firmly committed to that ‘borrowed’ Bud Light enjoyed behind the highschool gym while Bad Religion’s Punk Rock Song rang out on a cheap tinny portable stereo.
Nostalgia aside, it’s a chance for those fifteen year-olds – now all grown up (how the hell did that happen?) – to explore a new place and a curated cultural experience on a farm so picturesque, it’s actually kind of ridiculous. The lineup of old and new; from Voodoo Glow Skulls and Sick of It All to Rancid, NOFX and Bad Religion, is really just the delicious icing on the cake. This years’ festival proved to uphold the Punk in Drublic legacy with an added element of history and nostalgia, incorporating genre-defining acts like X and FEAR.
But it’s so much more than just a really great music festival. It’s a relaxing craft beer savored next to a campfire overlooking an incredible scene of rebellious music, vibrant color and nonstop action. From the dodgeball tournament happening on up on the hill, to the muddy stage-front circle pit in perpetual motion. It’s a whole lot of fun, and it’s also the perfect escape from the rigors and routine of modern life. It’s the shedding of your proper adulting self and all the responsibilities that go along with that nonsense. It’s the chance to groove along to the Offspring in the front row, beer in the air, your inner thirteen-year old self so incredibly stoked that you’re here, that you’re finally standing front-row, an arm’s reach from Dexter himself.
It’s also a scene of kindness, acceptance and generosity. Of the sort when a great number of people who never quite fit in congregate in a safe space; to be themselves, to love who they are and what they stand for, and to celebrate their differences. But also their love of a certain genre of music – because these aren’t just great bands. The likes of The Offspring, X, Rancid and Bad Religion are genre-defining cultural icons, and that’s worth celebrating.
The venue itself deserves some serious mention, too. Hosted at Legend Valley campground, this camping-slash-ranch-slash-festival ground-zero is absolutely stunning. It sets the standard impossibly high for all other beautiful festival locations. Legend Valley is purpose-built with an impeccable permanent stage, expansive central grounds and gentle green slopes overshadowed by pine trees to stage left and right, ascending back toward the campgrounds. There’s a craft beer park at the top; brewery tents and kegs placed neatly in rows. In the middle, green grass and market stalls, and food vendors on the eastern slope. Spotted many times throughout the weekend are two gents cruising around in outrageous outfits, with a staple gun and dollar bills tacked to the larger of the two. People line up to attach their own dollars, fives, tens and twenties. Dodgeball, giant beer pong and cornhole are also at the top, adjacent to the craft beer park, and the entire setting is surrounded – literally and figuratively – by camping areas from basic tents to upscale RV. The scene was comfortable and tidy; breezy, with shade, ample amenities and a congenial, organized air. This camp? …anything but Anarchy.
Which brings me to the next honorable mention. Arriving at a large festival campground is always anxiety-inducing; will I wait in line for hours? Is traffic going to be obscene? What have I forgotten? What have I brought that I will later find out is prohibited? Is my camp stove allowed? Is there a limit on beer per person? Will the entry gates be complete and utter chaos? Given the name of this festival, I braced myself for the worst. Entry can be a harrowing initiation to your festival weekend. And it is telling of the degree to which festival management have planned, organized and strategized for the logistical implications of thousands upon thousands of campers all arriving at the exact same moment.
My fears were all for nothing. After my media passes were located, I was through the gates and sitting, somewhat surprised, in my little camping spot adjacent to the forest in 35 minutes. Surprised, I found myself wondering what just happened. Camp Anarchy was sofar proving to be anything but; a breeze from ticket purchase to setting up camp. Throughout the weekend, I was continually surprised at just how efficient, friendly and on top of it the crew were.
I consistently find that the punk rock crowd defies my expectations. For a group with a decidedly bad reputation, they’re incredibly wonderful to spend time with. I witness over and over; kindness, selflessness and a community air that is decidedly lacking in other festival genres. The short girl craning to see the stage gets brought to the front; the 12-year old kid just learning about punk rock history finds himself and his bright red mini-hawk shaking hands with Noodles of the Offspring, who’s asking what other bands he’s into, and did he enjoy seeing FEAR earlier?
I could have spent all day in the beer festival on Saturday and again on Sunday; chatting with friendly vendors, even friendlier patrons and sampling everything from hoppy local IPAs to bright California pear and pineapple ciders. I didn’t find a single subpar brew. I left only for the calling of Voodoo Glow Skulls; arguably one of California’s best ska-punk exports. But this is not a land of comparison – every single act on the stage has, in some way, earned a very loyal following and deserves their place on the Camp Anarchy stage. It’s a truly phenomenal lineup, reflective of a vibrant and diverse genre.
Even the wildest parts of a punk rock show aren’t quite what they seem. I realize partway through the afternoon that our not-quite mosh-pit, now dubbed the “circle pit” is really just a place for fully grown adult men and women to dance around in the mud, to jostle and to generally lose all semblance of composure. To throw back a beer, shed inhibitions and dance (flail?) like nobody is watching. But when someone trips and falls, you also help them up. In this place, it’s perfectly okay to rock out obnoxiously, throw your hands joyously in the air (we see you, turquoise ‘hawk), to flip off the heavens, scream f*ck yeah!, and let off a little steam.
At one point, I’m ambushed by my favorite dodgeball team, The Buttholes, whom I photographed earlier. As you can imagine, it’s a rowdy bunch of ex-frat guys, most of whom are shirtless by now (some have also lost a shoe or two), and who’ve consumed a keg or three. Each. They are heartily engaged in the nostalgia on stage and as the act comes to and end, all five of them (it was six… one of them had recently crowd surfed to the front and was temporarily misplaced) proclaim “let’s grab this photographer a beer!” I acquiesce, if only to learn just a little more about these robustly cheerful mud-splattered humans.
All those things that my dad warned me about, though? A bright green mohawk, tattoos from head to toe, lip ring and studded leather biker vest…? Loud fast music and rowdy crowds? They might just be the escape from societal normalcy that I didn’t even know I needed. Sorry dad, but… live a little. If I needed any further confirmation of the virtues of these crazy punks, I realize this is actually one giant community who have a lot in common. I’m consistently hit with a pervasively unifying message; “we all don’t quite fit in/agree with things/have the same views, but we’re all in this together, so let’s circle-pit it out and hug each other at the end.” This sentiment is the entire scene, the entire crowd. We down a beer, Bam Bam crushes the can on his tattooed skull, and we proceed to celebrate our differences by slinging pleather-cuffed arms in the air, middle fingers protruding, as Fat Mike of NOFX celebrates his rebellious dress-clad self with a cheeky guitar solo. Later in the night, Bam Bam slings a beefy tattooed arm around my shoulders, proclaiming, “you’re allriiiight, Texas, ya know that? I’m glad you came out to join us.” With that, he’s off to the campgrounds and the night wraps.
I spend part of my time the next day rehashing crazy stories from the campground last night – it’s almost a: “this one time, at band camp…?” Hilarious and harmless; sightings of a streaker, a rogue big band musician or two joining us at the camp for a beer, and so-and so got too drunk and fell through his neighbor’s tent. I also catch up with my new friend, the incredible human behind the T-rex at last year’s Punk In Drublic. Yes, T-Rex is here, and T-Rex is back in the circle pit at Camp Anarchy. This most wonderful individual spends their time making prehistoric-inspired appearances at punk rock festivals across the country. My dear: thank you for your service to our community.
And so the weekend goes; meeting people from all walks of life, and from all corners of the country. Many have traveled a great distance to partake in this particular punk rock celebration. A great number are regulars; committed wholeheartedly to this annual celebration. What a crowd. I leave with many, many new friends.
It’s amazing to me that the stereotypes persist, that some people might not consider coming to a similar fest. Those who look like they might punch you in the nose and steal your lunch money? When you’re in the pit, it’s these same generous people that ask you if you’d like to stand in front of them, because you’re kind of short and you might not be able to see very well. It’s security guards called Bubba, who tell you that if you need a lift up to get a better photo, or you’d like to snap from their vantage point, just tap him on the shoulder and he’ll make that happen. He tells me later that his favorite part of the job is making sure the crowd surfers get out of there safely. It’s anything but Anarchy; perhaps contained chaos, but dammit, I like these people.
Camp Anarchy is a chance to partake: by shedding your preconceived notions and immersing yourself in the exuberant color and culture of a group of people who love their high-energy music and neon-hued hair. So what if the person next to you is covered in tattoos, looks like a biker gang linchpin, and may be a dude/may be a woman? Who cares? It’s the greatest possible display of acceptance and the most oddly beautiful unruly crowd I’ve met. So what if it’s a little unorthodox, wild at times, and definitely outside of the norm?
It’s a hidden gem, a coveted secret. I almost don’t want to share just how wonderful the punk rock scene is, how good these people are. And how well Camp Anarchy has compiled the best of it into one weekend, a getaway of sorts. Folks piling into the grounds; studded vests, colorful mohawks, tattoos and Doc Martens; the people-watching alone is an all-consuming endeavor. It is quite literally punks of all ages; from the blue-haired kid in a denim vest emblazoned with old-school punk logos, to the couple in their seventies; hands in each other’s back pockets, beer in the other, nodding along to the opening riffs of X’s Los Angeles. In true contradiction to all assumed reputations, this crowd is so easy to spend a weekend with. They’re kind, they’re outrageous, and they’re accepting. And as I’ve experienced in similar punk festivals past, I feel like I’ve found my tribe.